The Monday Before
It’s funny how routine compartmentalises your life into little airtight time slots. Five minutes for brushing and shaving, two minutes for matching socks hunt, ten minutes for oatmeal and boiled eggs and so on.
So how much ever I tell myself, I will savour today and the rest of week and try to do all these daily tasks slowly, I fail. I am still ready on time. My body it seems isn’t ready to accept what eighteen years of fine-tuning and conditioning has done. But then again, neither is my heart.
At office, there are still some loose ends to tie before Friday. Small blessings in the form of unanswered queries and some files to update. Something. Anything. To stop time. The replacement employee is not in yet and I dread meeting him.
The Tuesday Before
The new guy came in today. Someone half my age with more social networking site memberships than I even know of.
He has an apologetic tone in his voice as we shake hands. Retirement is a strange word. It signifies old age and worse, unproductiveness. Every day we crib about our jobs. But the day you have to leave those desks creaking under the weight of imminent deadlines, that day watch how your finger nails grow pale from holding on tight to your desk.
Retiring from a job. Not resigning, not moving onto something better. A fancier title, a fatter pay check, gold enamelled name plate on a door. No just plain old retirement. At most, a drooping bouquet on your desk, some hearty wishes by colleagues and a crummy cake in the pantry.
As my colleagues talk to me, I see in their eyes something I am not ready to look at yet. The days stretching ahead endlessly, the hobbies I might want to take up? Stamp collection, reading, gardening, maybe a tour to somewhere exotic?
No thanks. I’d like one more year on the job instead. Is that too much to ask?
The Wednesday before
Most of the transfer of duties is completed. And a strange sense of detachment begins. I sit in my seat all day, feeling like an intruder. This seat doesn’t feel like mine. This keyboard where I have clattered on for years and left coffee stains on the mouse pad, they don’t belong to me either. Not anymore.
I sit down all day, pretending to have something to do. Drafting and re-drafting a Thank you email to this company where I had joined when my moustache was still black, when my children were still babies and when “Tomorrow” held great promises.
The Thursday before
My highlight of the day: Answering questions for the new kid about the job.
Low light of the day: Over lunch, someone suggested about going to the new pasta place across the street. Next week sometime? Right. Next week would be perfect.
The Friday before
The alarm as usual, rings at 6 a.m. I am wide awake before that, watching the inky blue night-sky pale slowly and the rich red of dawn bleed onto the golden morning canvas.
I hear the newspaper land with a soft thud on the doorstep and I hear the church bell ring twice.
On the third ring of the bell, my alarm rings too. Shrill and loud. I press the button on top and stare it at it. Like seeing it for the first time properly after eighteen years.
It sits there, as it always has, nestled between a lopsided pencil stand that our eldest had gifted for a Mother’s Day years ago and a jar of Tiger Balm. It is the old-fashioned, sturdy type. Not sleek or digital. Belonging to a different era. Like me.
It has a yellow casing with a brown border, big bold numbering, black and green needles that have worked endlessly for years now, rousing me for office, for early morning church masses and for late-night flights.
I hold it in my hand, and feel the gentle ticking. Steady, consistent and assuring.
I take my time that morning selecting a tie, picking out socks, a freshly ironed shirt.
At office, my carefully drafted Farewell email is sent out to all promising to keep in touch (personal email id included). The final email as an employee.
Saturday, Sunday (do weekends matter anymore?)
Time. Too much of it. A feeling of emptiness on Sunday evening where Monday blues should have been raging. The alarm clock looks at me reproachfully. Out of habit, I set it for 6:00 a.m.
The Monday after
Something is not right about today. Well, obviously there is no office to go to. But it isn’t that. Something else.
I wake up in the morning but don’t get out of bed. I just lie there, trying to come to terms with the day – the sunlit bedroom, the neat folded blanket on my wife’s side of the bed and the distant sounds from the kitchen as she prepares breakfast.
A sigh escapes me. Something is definitely amiss. Anyway I have the whole day for figuring it out, don’t I?
I pause to glance at the alarm as I get out of bed. What time is it, anyway? The alarm reads 6 o’clock. And I realise I didn’t hear it ring today. I peer at it closer and notice how still the needles are. Frozen in time. I try winding it but nothing moves. Gentle knocking, some enthusiastic shaking. No nothing. Still 6 o’clock.
I sit on the edge of the bed, the clock nestled in my palms. My eyes began to water as I stare at its face, willing those needles to move. Move, dammit move! But they stay still. Very still.
The hour needle points to the 6 and the minute needle settles on the 12. Two halves and a perfect line dividing Before and After.
Author’s Note: A few months ago, I mentioned to my Dad that I needed a story idea for a short story competition I was planning to participate in. He said he did have a story and he’d like it if I wrote it. So I did.
So, this is the story of my Dad who worked over 25 years in the same company and retired from there in 1999. His voice faltered a bit as he told me about the alarm clock which woke him up each day and inexplicably stopped working 2 weeks after his retirement.
I never realised why the alarm clock (same as described in the story) still sat and gathered dust in a cupboard at home. But now I do.
FYI, the story never won anything for the competition, but I’m glad I wrote it all the same.